A 500-word history of: James Murphy

There’s a line out there from James Murphy talking about how a certain kind of kid discovers The Smiths at a certain age and builds an identity around them. In the bigmouth Morrissey era, that band is Murphy’s own LCD Soundsystem.

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Born in New Jersey in 1970, Murphy got into music early on, fronting bands with the older kids and terrifying himself with the dichotomy of Gilbert O’Sullivan and David Bowie. After enrolling and dropping out of an NYU English major and turning down a writing role on Seinfeld at 22, Murphy began DJing under the name Death From Above.

Murphy took on drumming engineer roles with Sub Pop’s Six Finger Satellite (former member Juan MacLean is now signed to Murphy’s DFA label) and on David Holmes’ Bow Down to the Exit Sign, the latter of which introduced him to Tim Goldworthy, formerly of UNKLE, whom he would go on to DJ with on New York’s Lower East Side.

Murphy has spoken openly of the self-imposed penance of his time in engineering, driven by a fear of failure. In one later interview, Murphy professed his sadness after reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and realising that, having dropped out of university to make music, he had created nothing. The dawning realisation of his crippling fear and self-proclaimed failings drove him to act.

JamesMurphyDFA

Murphy and Goldworthy set up DFA Records together with Jonathan Galkin in 2001. LCD Soundsystem’s debut track, Losing My Edge, soon followed. A first self-titled album followed (2005) to critical acclaim before Sound of Silver (2007) and North American Scum put LCD on the map of every Hollywood soundtracker in the business. 2009 saw Murphy soundtrack Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg followed by third album, This is Happening (2010) and the announcement that the band intended to split.

LCD’s epic ‘last gig’ at Madison Square Gardens was immortalised in both Shut Up and Play the Hits, documenting Murphy’s 48 hours around the gig, and near-unedited live album The Long Goodbye.

Post-LCD, Murphy took on a wealth of new challenges, collaborating with Arcade Fire on Reflektor, soundtracking Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young, and later remixing David Bowie’s Love is Lost, before guesting as a percussionist on Bowie’s farewell piece, Blackstar, after plans to produce fell through. Murphy also worked on Despacio, a formation of eight McIntosh speakers stacked to 11ft high designed for immersive DJing.

Among his more unusual projects were US Open Remixes – 14 algorithm-based tracks created in real time using the sounds of US Open tennis matches – and Subway Symphony, Murphy’s campaign to change the NYC subway turnstile beeps to a series of three to five harmonising tones. Sadly, the NYC transit authority doesn’t seem keen.

In 2015, circulating rumours culminated in quickly-denied reunification reports. Nevertheless, on Christmas Eve 2015, LCD released Christmas Will Break Your Heart, followed by a headline Coachella slot. Murphy later revealed he been inspired to get the band back together by advice from Bowie himself.

American Dream landed in the summer of 2017 to all-round critical acclaim, momentarily satiating the identity crises of lost fans everywhere.

(P.s. Here’s that Smiths line)

By Jack Meredith

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